David Oguttu: 'Elimination is being achieved'

One parasitologist is working with Uganda's ministry of health to tackle the endemic river blindness disease.

Last Modified: 30 Oct 2013 15:10
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David Oguttu says it is "a joy" to be able to work towards the elimination of a disease [The Carter Center]

David Oguttu, a parasitologist with the ministry of health in Uganda, is a champion for the fight against river blindness, or onchocerciasis, in his community.

"It is really devastating. When you see an oncho patient [who is] suffering, it's really bad," he says.

Oguttu's BS degree in biomedical lab technology underpins his day-today work at a scientific laboratory in Kampala, where, as a senior lab technician, he is actively involved in the surveillance, detection and ultimate elimination of the disease.

Oguttu grew up in Uganda’s Busia district, which is not endemic for river blindness. But after he witnessed people in his village suffering and dying from another parasitic disease, schistosomiasis, he decided to pursue his interest in biomedical science in order to help the community through public health work.

"This is one of the first labs for this kind of [river blindness elimination] technique in Africa," Oguttu says about the work he feels "grateful" to be able to do.

"I enjoy lab work," he says, adding that morbidity levels have decreased in the years since the lab was set up in 2007, and all affected communities are now being reached.

"Flies are collected and sent here, we extract the DNA, we want to see if any of the flies is carrying a parasite." Oguttu says. "Where they cannot detect any infection in the field, they suspect that they have eliminated the disease."

Screening children is also a key part of the detection and elimination process, he says. "We want to see whether these children have ever got infected by the worm which causes river blindness so we take blood spots and screen them."

"And if we find no exposure in the children below 10 years, and we don't find any infection in the flies, then we are happy. We say yes, elimination is being achieved. That is a joy," he adds.

"There is nothing greater in the community you can do than eliminating diseases which are haunting them."

Oguttu is one of many health heroes on Lifelines: The Quest for Global Health.

Lifelines: The Quest for Global Health will air on Al Jazeera in 2014.


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About LifeLines
Lifelines: The Quest For Global Health
is Al Jazeera's new cross-platform project profiling the extraordinary work of global health workers as they tackle eight deadly diseases and conditions that afflict vulnerable communities across the globe. These good news stories stretch from the Philippines to Pakistan, Uganda to South Sudan, India to Senegal, featuring the people who are working to prevent, control or eradicate malaria, rabies, polio, leprosy, schistosomiasis, Guinea worm, river blindness, trachoma and maternal and neonatal mortality. Online, on screen and on the ground in affected communities, we will share their uplifting stories in Lifelines: The Quest For Global Health.
Sign up for regular updates about the people and their work around the world to tackle these diseases and conditions.
Lifelines will focus month by month on each condition here on our website and in 2014 will premiere an eight-part
documentary series on Al Jazeera English.